Friday, July 10, 2009
Jean-Jacques Beineix has given us some of the great iconic cinematic individuals of the past thirty years. From the obsessed young Jules in Diva, to the mysterious Loretta in The Moon in the Gutter, all the way up to the disturbed kleptomaniac Olga in Mortal Transfer, Beineix has presented film lovers with some of the most memorable non-conformists in all of modern cinema. They can all be traced back to the lonely and tragi-comic character M. Michel in Beineix’s remarkable debut, the 1977 short Le chien de Monsieur Michel (Mr. Michel’s Dog).
Beineix had been working steadily as a second unit and assistant director throughout the seventies for a variety of filmmakers, including everyone from Rene Clement to Claude Zidi. The fifteen minute Mr. Michel’s Dog’s marked Beineix’s debut as a director and screenwriter, and at just past thirty years of age the uncompromising artist is already in command of his visionary power, as the most remarkable thing about Mr. Michel’s Dog is that it is clearly a Jean-Jacques Beineix film.
Mr. Michel’s Dog is a striking character study concerning an isolated gentleman who lies about having a pet dog in order to collect scraps for dinner from a local butcher. It all goes wrong though when his neighbors become more and more pushy about meeting the imaginary creature, a fact that forces Michel’s life to take a very ironic and quite horrifically funny turn. The film concludes with a last shot that works as a twisted flip side to the touching final moments that closed Beineix's legendary Betty Blue nearly ten years later.
Everything from Beineix’s fluid and flexible camera work to the attention to color (check how Michel’s eye-grabbing red sweater plays off wonderfully with the film’s otherwise gray palate, something Beineix would use with Nastassja Kinski in The Moon in the Gutter several years down the road.) is handled exceedingly well. Beineix also shows himself here as an expert at drawing commanding, and sometimes surprising, performances out of his cast, as in veteran Yves Afonso who gives an absolutely sincere and wonderful turn as the doomed title character.
While it is said to have originated as a short story by André Rouyer, Beineix biographer Phile Powrie would note in his excellent French Film Directors: Jean-Jacques Beineix that the director had stated that the short was actually inspired more by the old French song “Le Chat de la mere Michel’, a fact worth noting as the music in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s films would become one of their most important features starting with his next work, the wonderful and audacious Diva in
Mr. Michel’s Dog would receive a Cesar nomination for best short film in 1977, and it won the First Prize at that year’s Festival at Trouville. Beineix’s first film as a director is a wonderful opening chapter to an important career, and it can now be thankfully viewed again thanks to Cinema Libre’s first title in their ambitious Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection. The short is available on the Locked in Syndrome DVD as an extra (my looks at Locked in Syndrome as well as the other film on the disc, Otaku, are coming soon) and it features removable English subtitles. The picture quality is solid and is mostly free of wear, although colors are quite faded. Considering the rarity and age of the title though, Cinema Libra’s presentation is fine and the disc is highly recommended.